Where will my child be?

Arb program:

Exploring the Arnold Arboretum! The Arboretum has a huge diversity of trees, shrubs, and habitats— countless opportunities to learn and explore. Children will be active participants in selecting which places within the Arboretum we visit each day, and how we explore them.

Opening up the world of outdoor exploration for children is what drives us! Our operational strategies, safety protocols, and consistent daily routines help us to provide safe and fun adventures for each child.

Wellesley location: At Massachusetts Horticultural Society and the Elm Bank State Forest North End location: At Waterfront Park and the New England Aquarium

Are the children outside in all weather?

BOPN's philosophy has children learning outdoors regardless of weather. To keep our children warm and dry, we combine the right clothing with a play-based curriculum that keeps children moving while helping them to develop perseverance and empathy. When children are outside every day, their body-awareness and self-regulation skills develop quickly. We are well-equipped with extra clothing, hand and toe warmers, extra water, first aid kits, and all the necessities for each type of weather throughout the seasons.

We rely on parents/guardians to be active partners with us in preparing their child for the weather. Parents ensure that their child is dressed appropriately to spend three hours outside, including rain jacket, rain pants, wool socks, waterproof boots, mittens, hat, neck warmer, etc. Check out this video for an example of how to dress your child for rainy and cold days. If your family cannot afford high-quality outdoor gear, please let us know and we will provide it!

In rare instances of severe weather including thunderstorms, strong winds, and/or severe temperatures, we will cancel class. So far this winter we have only needed to cancel class one day, when Boston public schools was also closed for a snow day.

Emergency Shelters:

Arboretum location:

BOPN has three designated Emergency Shelters: two on the Arboretum grounds, and one right across the street from the arboretum. We will call Arboretum Security and retreat to the nearest emergency shelter if severe weather occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.

Wellesley location:

MassHort Education Building

North End location:

Long Wharf Marriott Hotel

Is BOPN licensed?

Our half-day preschools are exempt (not licensed).

Our full-day toddler and preschool program must be licensed by the Department of Early Education and Care before we open.

What is the relationship between BOPN and the Arnold Arboretum?

BOPN aligns with the Arboretum's goal to foster greater understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of Earth’s botanical diversity. However, we want to be clear that BOPN and the Arboretum are separate organizations. The Arboretum is not involved with organizing or operating BOPN's programs in any way. BOPN always follows the Arboretum rules in order to preserve the health of the trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants. We leave no trace.

Is nature-play risky?

While it is true that children often do get hurt playing outdoors, the actual risk of serious injury is relatively small. The majority of injuries sustained include bumps, scrapes, and bruises.

The risks of nature play are minor compared to other dangers that children routinely face, but what about the benefits? Research has found a remarkable range of positive impacts from frequent, unstructured play in rich, diverse natural settings. These benefits cover the entire realm of holistic child development: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, creative, and spiritual.

The bottom line: children need risk. It is a powerful catalyst for growth that helps them develop good judgment, persistence, courage, resiliency, and self-confidence. Remove risk from children’s lives, and parts of their growth may stagnate. Kids learn their capabilities, their vulnerabilities, and good decision-making skills through real-life experiences – sometimes happy, sometimes harsh, but always instructive.

We manage risk by conducting regular safety inspections of the grounds, documenting any incidents, and maintaining accurate incident records.

How do you keep children safe?

We keep children safe in our outdoor classroom by:

  • Having a low adult to child ratio of 1:6

  • Having children wear matching yellow safety-vests

  • Requiring that children stay in sight and sound of their teachers at all times

  • Careful attendance including frequent head-counts

  • Giving children clear expectations and physical boundaries (boundaries reinforced using auditory, tactile, and visual strategies)

  • Routine establishing that a teacher talks to an unfamiliar adult first

  • Allowing pickup by designated persons only

  • Using a pick-up and drop-off location that is safe

  • Certifying teachers in First Aid and CPR


There are two port-a-potties located at the base of Peter's Hill and two near the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden.

At the port-a-potties:

Teachers disinfect them each morning before class
We wait outside to make sure no one else enters and to offer help if requested
We supervise hand-washing
We have spare clothes in case of accidents

Teacher Qualifications?

Sara has been a teacher and administrator at public and private schools for over 20 years. She has a Masters Degree in Reading Education and Montessori certification. Before joining BOPN she taught first grade at Brimmer and May.

Shela has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and is Director certified through the Department of Early Education and Care. In a 2018 assessment of Shela's teaching she was rated “exemplary” in all six categories: well-structured lessons, adjustments to practice, meeting diverse needs, safe learning environment, high expectations, and reflective practice. At that time, her preschool classroom included seven children with disabilities.

Sarah has a Masters Degrees in Early Childhood Education and Montessori certification. She has taught preschool and 5th grade boat building.

Emily is currently working toward a Certificate in Nature-based Early Childhood Education at Antioch College New England. Her background is in traditional and farm-based education.

Read more about the teachers on our Meet the Team page. We pride ourselves on our team of joyful and dedicated teachers!

Snack and lunch?

Half-day preschool programs:

Children carry a small snack in a pocket or their backpack.

Lunch is not part of our program at this time. Please note that picknicking is prohibited at the Arboretum.

Full-day toddler and preschool program:

Children eat snack at the arboretum and lunch in the classroom.

Will my child learn to read?

Early literacy begins with exposure to rich language experiences. At BOPN this is accomplished through read-alouds, storytelling, and singing. In addition, children are introduced to a wide vocabulary as they discuss their surroundings, experiments, and discoveries. Some of the ways we encourage literacy:

  • Reading together

  • Singing songs in English, Haitian Creole, Spanish, or German, emphasizing rhyming, phonetics, and vocabulary

  • Using nonfiction texts to learn about the flora and fauna we see

  • Dictating our own stories

  • Guessing games involving names, pieces of language, and words

  • Modeling the use of reading and writing as tools used to accomplish children's own goals

At BOPN, we "talk local." Antioch professor David Sobel advocates for a language development process that is rich in the fabric of the natural world:

"It is important to build language from the 'here and now' to the 'long ago and far away'...[Our language should be] replete with the nouns of flora and fauna (phoebe, maple, chrysalis), the verbs of movement (bounding, slithering, cavorting), the adjectives of description (heart-shaped, lavender, glittery), the adverbs of modification (quietly, roughly, impatiently), and the prepositions of interaction (going around, through, or over this puddle)...In 2009, the Oxford Junior Dictionary cut nature terms such as heron, acorn, clover, ivy, willow, and blackberry, replacing them with more modern terms such as broadband and blog. When the lexicon starts to eliminate nature words and replace them with technology words, it's an indication that we are becoming more and more isolated from the natural world. Instead, if we root human language in natural systems, we shape a sense of the natural world as the real world, the ultimate source, rather than the man-made world." (citation)

Will my child learn math?

Math, as well as other STEM learning, happens organically in nature. As children collect leaves and stones, they practice shape identification, colors, sorting and grouping. Nature provides many opportunities to practice classifying and measuring, as well as comparisons such as heavy versus light, rough versus smooth, deciduous versus evergreen, and so-forth.

As children explore nature, they spontaneously engage in STEM experimentation as well. For example, examination of spiderwebs can be an opportunity to learn about geometry.

Some of the ways we build math skills:

  • Creating collections of natural materials that showcase patterns and sizes
  • Counting, within context (counting the number of children present, counting natural items)
  • Using weights and measures, which emphasizes comparisons
  • Sorting materials (How many leaves are green? How many of the nuts are acorns?)
  • Songs with counting
After morning circle a teacher sometimes says "Stand next to [co-teacher's name] if you would like to go to Hemlock Hill. Stand next to me if you would like to go to Peter's Hill...Let's count...Which group has more? Which group has fewer?" This exercise teaches the children about math and democracy. We hike off to the adventure spot chosen by the majority, but if a particular group keeps getting out-voted, we might discuss the concept of "majority rule minority rights."

Will my child be ready for elementary school?

Yes! More and more studies are showing that children who have participated in nature preschools are as academically proficient (if not more so) than their academic preschool counterparts by the end of their Kindergarten year. In addition, children who have participated in a nature preschool almost always score higher than their traditional preschool counterparts in the areas of critical thinking and problem solving.

Prior to joining BOPN, Sara M. taught first grade for many years at Brimmer and May. She is very familiar with what children need to be prepared for first grade.

Will my child learn about respect?

Respect for self, each other, and the environment is at the heart of BOPN. We demonstrate respect through modeling appropriate behavior and helping children understand their choices and the implications. Children are taught how to be good stewards of nature.

How is discipline handled?

BOPN first seeks to minimize the need for excess discipline through the establishment of comfortable routines and clear behavioral expectations. When necessary, teachers employ the principles of conscious discipline, which inspire behavior changes from within the child, rather than imposed on them. We focus on respect, strengthening relationships, and clear expectations. In addition to working with the children, a strong and mutually respectful relationship with parents and caregivers is paramount for maintaining a positive learning environment.

What are the benefits of mixed-age programs?

The children in our classes range in age from 2.9 through 6 years old. A key component of multi-age programs is children teaching children. The younger children often follow the lead of the older children, using new language, practicing new routines, and challenging themselves to try new skills. The older children are provided with the opportunity to gain leadership skills and practice explaining, teaching, and sharing.

How will you assess my child’s development?

BOPN uses the seven standards from the book Lens on Outdoor Learning to record your child’s progress and assess their areas of strength and future goals (click here for more details). We communicate with families on a weekly basis regarding program activities, and in a more structured way at scheduled parent-teacher conferences.

May I come for a visit with my child?

YES! Please fill out the contact form on this website, email info@bopn.org, or call Sarah at 917-692-6946 or to schedule a visit. COVID update: When we re-open in August, families may observe our program from 10 feet away.

May I volunteer?

Yes! Please email info@bopn.org or call Sarah at 917-692-6946. We seek volunteers who enjoy spending time in nature and with children. Do you have a special skill to share? Please reach out! Skills needed at this time: Web design in Wix, Grant writing, Building raised garden beds Background checks are required for regular volunteers. UPDATE (6/5/20): It is harder to have volunteers at this time due to COVID restrictions. However, if you are interested in volunteering in the fall or winter, please feel free to reach out.

May I donate supplies?

Yes please! Wish list: - Disposable gloves - Paper towels - Dr. Bronner liquid soap - Liquid soap in general - Fan - art supplies - children's gardening gloves - children's rain pants, rain jackets, and other outerwear - Book: You Can't Celebrate That!: Navigating the Deep Waters of Social Justice Teaching by Nadia Jaboneta We welcome your ideas to help support our program. Please reach out!

Do you offer kindergarten?

Yes! Our half-day preschool and full-day preschool programs include the kindergarten year.

Does BOPN have indoor facilities?

Half-day programs: We are entirely outdoors. We have access to emergency shelter if needed. At the North End location we will take frequent field trips to the New England Aquarium. Full-day program: Our full-day prechool and toddler progams will use classroom space at 4006 Washington Street as "home base."

Which BOPN program is right for my family?

Email Sarah.Besse@bopn.org or call 917 692 6946 to discuss which program is right for your child.

Please note that while BOPN has a friendly relationship with the Arboretum and MassHort, all are separate organizations and the Arboretum or MassHort are not involved with organizing or operating BOPN's programs.

Nondiscrimination statement:

Boston Outdoor Preschool Network admits students of any race to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at BOPN and does not discriminate on the basis of race in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship programs, and other school-administered programs.